Touchstones of Promise



Published January 21, 2010

Along with the usual keys and coins, I carry in my pocket two reminders of what is most important in my work at Ohio State. One is a list of the university’s strategic goals. The other is a scarlet and gray poker chip. It serves to remind me that we must take risks in order to make the most of this time of unprecedented possibilities.

E. Gordon GeeThe things I carry are touchstones for Ohio State’s promise for the future.

When I returned to the university a little more than two years ago, I was struck by the ways in which it had flourished during my decade away. The quality of our students and faculty, our teaching and research, our external partnerships and outreach programs, and our health care services had reached new heights. And from those heights, our even greater potential was visible.

Because Ohio State is exceptionally strong and comprehensive, we have a limitless capacity to do good. To feed the hungry. To cure disease and solve global environmental problems. To bring joy and enrichment to others through the arts and humanities. To help emerging democracies establish sound foundations. To prepare students for leadership in a global context. And to help create a strong future for our state and our nation.

That is neither presidential posturing nor wishful thinking. After three decades of leading universities, I know the indicators of quality. Ohio State is a place of vast intellectual capital, enormous imagination, and manifest vitality. We are blessed with support from electedofficials, alumni, and friends. Our resources are without equal.

Using this moment of unparalleled strength to lasting advantage means we must create a campus culture that will help us match our expertise to the needs of today’s world. We must make changes, in ourselves and in the university’s academic and administrative structures, to achieve the eminence that is within our grasp.

At the heart of these changes is the concept of “one university.” Ohio State is a massive enterprise, and we must use that to maximum effect. We must determine how to be both big and entrepreneurial. We must simplify our processes and realign our efforts toward common purposes. We must shed the habits that do not move us and our students forward.

Together, we must create a culture that values collaboration and rewards shared success. We must think and act as an integrated and cohesive institution. We must nurture the best in ourselves and in one another. We must seek partners across the institution and outside of it, and we must act quickly when opportunities arise. We must move from being risk-averse to risk-tolerant.

As my poker chip reminds me, well-calculated gambles can produce results that are otherwise unattainable.

Today’s global problems do not fit squarely inside single disciplines, and they are not solved by working in isolation. Our greatest leaps forward happen when we form collaborations between previously distinct entities, internally and externally.

Some of the most promising advances in human health care, for example, result from veterinarians working with physicians, clinicians, chemists, and nutritionists. Some of the most compelling art is created when dancers partner with architects, engineers, and scientists.

Those kinds of advances happen at Ohio State because of our quality and breadth, and because we are breaking out of the old academic silos, shunning orthodoxy when it does not further our cause, and acting as the architects of our destiny.

We all play critical roles in helping the university reach its potential. We are moving forward at a good clip, and we cannot slacken our pace. I have no doubt that by more fully harnessing the power of our human resources—including our alumni, who are among our greatest assets—we can accomplish remarkable things.

Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, the things I carry in my pocket remind me to spend my time and energy where they will do the most good. And together, we have much good to do.


E. Gordon Gee is president of The Ohio State University.

Originally published in Ohio State Alumni Magazine.